Management accountants need to be forward-thinking to help drive businesses. But where is the profession heading?

Despite the gloomy economic climate in the West, there has never been a better time to be a management accountant. Many school leavers and graduates are justifiably worried about their career prospects – but there are some clear advantages for those who choose to become a management accountant.

The good news is that there’s currently a global shortage of highly skilled accounting and finance professionals. At the same time, businesses are increasingly turning to management accountants to provide the expertise to guide them through these difficult economic times and on long-term, sustainable success. This has created an environment where management accountants are in demand.

So what makes management accountants so special? For a start, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification is not just about accountancy. It provides the skills and knowledge to help students to become the business leaders of the future. In essence, CIMA members are sought after because they use their financial and management skills to add value to organisations and help drive them to greater success.

Business partnering

CIMA is working hard to encourage companies to make the best use of management accountants. For many CIMA students, the future is in business partnering, (the development of long-term strategic relationships with other companies). CIMA has always promoted the benefits of management accountancy but, more recently, the institute has focused on demonstrating the value that management accountants can add outside the finance function.

Over the past few decades, the finance function has become a very different entity. Developments in information technology, the shifting management agenda and the drive towards shared services and outsourcing has seen a dramatic reduction in the size of the average finance team.

Accountancy: a thing of the past?

The arrival of sophisticated financial software led some financial experts to predict that accountants could become a dying breed. But CIMA has shown that the unique training received by its members gives them the skills and knowledge not only to improve the effectiveness of the finance function but to provide value across the entire business structure.

The demand for more varied and detailed information is also increasing. Companies need finance people who are adept not only at evaluating current business activity but in modelling the future.

The rise of shared services and outsourcing

Shared service and outsourcing centres are also evolving as a training ground for the management accountants of the future. Shared services are a scheme whereby multiple departments or organisations pool their resources to jointly provide a service. A growing number of graduates are being given the opportunity to ‘earn and learn’ in this environment.

Global food retailer, Kellogg’s, is one example. The company runs a cutting-edge shared services centre in Manchester which incorporates the CIMA syllabus into its graduate training programme. The result is that the company can offer higher value support to the business and more competitive career prospects to attract and retain talented graduates.

Graduate trainees working in this type of environment will often find themselves with two career choices: to focus on the development of high quality information provided by such centres or to use the knowledge they have gained to support the core business activities at head office.

How CIMA students benefit from their studies

CIMA’s most recent survey of its UK students found that their studies provide significant benefits in terms of salaries and career prospects.

The average annual student remuneration package (salary and bonuses) is £32,218. Part qualified students in the banking sector earn 27% more than the average, followed by those in oil, gas and alternative energy, who earn 18% more.

Moreover, even at an early stage in their careers, significant numbers of students select leadership training options, indicating their early ambitions to become managers and leaders in industry.

A total of 96% agreed that studying for CIMA creates career opportunities; 80% believe that the CIMA qualification enables them to move across all areas of the business and 84% said that CIMA strengthens their ability to develop their careers internationally.

All these facts point to the potential for CIMA students to become the business leaders of the future and the builders of organisations that are both successful and sustainable.

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